Maintaining cultural exemption a priority for Quebec

MONTREAL — Although culture isn’t on the table as the NAFTA talks loom, Quebec’s economy minister and the province’s chief negotiator sounded out industry stakeholders Tuesday to ensure everyone was on the same page.

The province has said it is imperative for Quebec to defend the cultural exemption clause, which gives a jursidiction the right to exclude culture from trade deals because it is not considered a commodity.

It wasn’t listed as a priority on a list of objectives presented to Congress by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, but that could change.

“Culture is not on the table but as you know, it’s also the DNA of all Quebecers and it’s really important that we reinforce the fact that the cultural exception is real priority for us,” Economy Minister Dominique Anglade said after meeting with representatives from the cinema, publishing and music industry.

“Whether or not it’s on the table right now, it doesn’t mean it won’t be at some point in time and we want to make sure that we are prepared.”

Anglade estimated she has had 50 meetings with groups from different provincial sectors that could be affected by the NAFTA negotiations, which are slated to begin in mid-August.

Ex-finance minister Raymond Bachand, Quebec’s chief negotiator at the NAFTA table, said the takeaway from Tuesday was that everyone is on the same page.

“Right now (the cultural exemption) is in NAFTA, in the trade agreement signed with Europe, it was in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it’s in many other free-trade agreements and with the work that has been done at UNESCO, it is a dimension generally recognized more and more,” said Bachand.

Solange Drouin, vice-president at ADISQ, a non-profit organization that supports the Quebec music industry, says it’s important for Canada to maintain its cultural exemption and that it might be tweaked to include different services in the digital era.

“It’s important that Quebec and Canada maintain their power to establish those kinds of measures,” Drouin said. “We want to maintain our power to establish those cultural policies … so leave us alone when we talk about the cultural milieu.”

While the exemption isn’t on the table, e-commerce and intellectual property are, which could have an impact on the sector, she said.

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